Heidi Reimer-Epp, General Manager
Company: Botanical PaperWorks, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Contact Info: Tel: 204-956-7393, ext. 11 e-mail: email@example.com
Web site: www.botanicalpaperworks.com
Description: Established in 1997, Botanical PaperWorks Inc. designs, manufactures and markets handmade paper and stationery made from recycled fibres, flower petals, herbs and spices and more. Its products, including paper sheets, envelopes, papermaking supplies and books, handbound books, cards and stationery folders, are sold to retail customers through its web site, to the wholesale stationery market and to contract manufacturing clients like the funeral industry and promotions industry. The majority of the company's sales are from exports to the U.S., and some to the U.K. "Handmade paper is a very ancient process and at the end of the day it is all made by hand," explains Heidi Reimer-Epp. The company's 10 employees use the old method of hand papermaking - standing at vats, mixing recipes with petals and seeds, and pulling sheets, one by one - although modifying the process to make larger quantities.
Background: After a stint in the pharmaceutical industry, Heidi started Botanical with her mother, Mary, an elementary school teacher. Originally inspired by Mary's students who made fancy paper and bound their poems into a book, daughter and mother watched the marketplace and saw that handmade paper products were growing in popularity. (In 1993, Mary had also made Heidi's wedding program and it was a big hit.) " We decided to do something about it or never talk about it again." Their market research entailed producing product samples, which they took to five stores in Winnipeg, with a goal of selling to two. All five bought…and that's when Heidi quit her job to take on the new challenge. Starting with a mail order catalogue initially targeted to the Canadian market, the company's creation of a web site opened up the market south of the border. Today, close to 90% of Botanical's sales are to the U.S. market. It exhibits at the National Stationery Show in New York every year and advertises in all U.S. publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, In Style Weddings, Bride's/Modern Bride and Greetings Etc.
A Family Affair: Co-owned by Heidi, her mother, father, and her husband, this family business has Heidi at the helm managing day-to-day operations. "In the early years, we had a mother-daughter relationship, which then evolved into business partners." Now pursing a career as pastor, Heidi's mother still assists with product development and strategic direction, her father helps on the technology side and her lawyer husband provides legal advice as required. "There's something great about working with family when it goes smoothly and each person has their own distinct roles," says Heidi, adding that, "My mother and I have different but complementary personalities. She has taught me some really great things, especially about working with other people." The two have even co-authored three papermaking and bookbinding books, including 300 Papermaking Recipes and The Encyclopedia of Papermaking and Bookbinding. These are sold in the U.K., Australia and Canada through their U.K. publisher, who originally sourced the pair on the Web. "Writing books is good for establishing your credibility in the marketplace," notes Heidi, adding that the exposure positions them as experts in this niche industry and helps fuel international marketing and sales.
Financing: "We needed financing to start up our manufacturing facility and get production capacity to a certain point so that we could handle orders as they came in. Over the past seven years, there were a number of leaps of production capacity and one of those leaps took a chunk of money. When we first started, we obtained a line of credit from RBC Royal Bank and that, coupled with shareholder investments, provided our start-up capital. In 2000, RBC increased our line to accommodate our foray into the U.S. market and the advertising required. We also sourced some financing through the Women's Enterprise Centre (www.wecm.ca) in Winnipeg.
Biggest Challenge: Her biggest challenge is competing with low-cost overseas product. "We do this by producing a product of high quality, prepared with rapid turn-around times and ever-changing designs, rather than competing on price."
Support Accessed: "The Women's Enterprise Centre has been a great source of support over the past couple years, providing advice and helping with due diligence when we looked into acquiring another company. It also ran a weekend business camp, which was great. I found it exciting to be with other entrepreneurs and brought back many good ideas to incorporate into my business. I also have a casual network of business owner friends who have helped me figure out how to run a manufacturing business tightly because, in a hand crafted industry, we must really watch our cost of manufacturing."
How RBC Royal Bank Has Helped: An RBC Royal Bank client since start-up, Heidi credits her account manager back in 2000, Vi Desrochers, for her constant contact and support and for putting Heidi in touch with the Women's Enterprise Centre.
Key Success Factor: Constant financial analysis has ensured successful and profitable growth for Botanical. "We are vigilant in ensuring that our pricing is in line with our costs and in tracking key indicators, like reject rates,' explains Heidi. "We watch our margins to ensure we make money."
- "I learned how to attract employees by trial and error and have discovered that it pays off to provide flexibility. We have recruited good people - single moms and students - and have trained and retained them."
- "I didn't realize how much cash is needed to start a business and the different infusions of cash required at various growth stages."
Expansion Plans: "We are trying to develop new products with hemp and alternative fibres and want to expand into other English-speaking countries like the U.K. and Australia. We also want to expand our product line to provide more corporate products that can be used as premiums and giveaways."
Growth Tip: "Lower your overheads using technology. For example, have a great Web site and good databases to track customer activity so you can provide seamless service."
On Work-Life Balance: A mother of two, Heidi admits that trying to strike a balance between growing a business and raising a family is a constant challenge. "Good employees make such a difference in helping you manage easily from a distance."